Tuesday, 9 April 2013

What does wine, coffee and chocolate have to do with climate change?

Post written by R. Cretney.

Recent news articles have been taking a popular angle in raising awareness of the effects of climate change on agriculture and food production.

Research released today, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States shows that Californian, Chilean and Mediterranean grape producing regions will be hit hard by shifts in growing conditions due to climate change

 Other recent research has shown that other popular food items such as coffee, honey and chocolate are at risk from increasing severe weather events, pests and diseases as a result of a shifting climate. Even Starbucks acknowledged the risk of climate change in 2011 and began lobbying the Obama administration to work on the issue.

 But the news is not all bad for New Zealand. The climactic changes may make it easier to grow grapes here. The author's model shows land suitable for grape growing increasing by 168%. This could provide a new industry for agricultural production that is negatively affected by other shifts in the climate and may increase our already strong brand as a wine producing nation.

 For other industries though the authors recommend using increasingly creative farming techniques and less water intensive means of production. So who knows about the future of coffee and chocolate, but at least the future of global wine production shows promise for New Zealand. Next week we are going to have a look at how your personal food choices can affect the global climate but investigating different dietary choices.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Nitrogen Bomb - Mike Barton on Country Calendar

Post written by R. Cretney

Mike Barton from AgDialogue has just been featured on New Zealand's Country Calendar show. The show aired on the 30th of March and can be seen from the TVNZ Ondemand website.

Mike and Sharon Barton's branded beef products have been launched in response to the Waikato District Council placing a cap on the amount of nitrogen able to be released into Lake Taupo.  As a result the Bartons cannot increase their production as they would have previously - this led them to look for other ways to raise a similar income from fewer animals, and so Taupo Beef was born. By creating their own brand the Bartons have assured customers that the beef they are eating is from a local farm that isn't damaging the lake.

As this branding adds value to the product, the meat sold by Taupo Beef goes for a premium. The Barton's creativity has allowed them to maintain the profitability of their farm while keeping it within environmental limits. This is an exciting area for New Zealand agriculture with many opportunities both nationally and abroad.

To see the full story watch the Country Calendar show here.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Carbon Farming Group - new biological farming video.

Post written by R. Cretney

A new video released by the Carbon Farming Group demonstrates the case study of one farm in the Golden Bay area that is successfully applying biological farming principles.

Late last year Motu Research Analyst Zack Dorner compiled a comprehensive post on the arguments for and against biological farming as a method for increasing stores of soil carbon. The evidence put forward by scientists in this area shows that the evidence for biological farming is currently less than conclusive. Troy Baisden, who is mentioned in Zack's post, says that while the evidence is not currently strong in favor of the techniques, they are probably not harmful to soil carbon levels.

However this does not mean biological farming has no benefits for farmers. This latest video from the Carbon Farming Group details some of the other benefits that farmers using this technique might benefit from, including adaptation to different climates. Mark Manson, who narrates the video, discusses the benefits to his family farm. While reducing stocking rates he has maintained and improved the milk production of his farm through changes to the management of stock feed and soil conditions.

One of the features of his farm is that it is significantly comprised of land that is particularly dry– especially during the summer months. In past years this has led to Mark having to sell stock when feed supplies became low. Now however, through focusing on improving the base saturation of the soil (a focus on soil pH, magnesium, sodium and potassium), the soil is more resilient to climatic changes, more biologically diverse and experiences less compaction. Combined with a diversification of grass types this means that Mark can successfully run the same stock numbers throughout the year, even in dry conditions.

You can read more about biological farming from the Carbon Farming Group here.